The following is helpful advice that we have compiled in the last couple of weeks from our literature savvy friends:
- There are two great types of essay: one, the Montaigne line (you can read, for example “To Philosophize is to Learn to Die”, “On Friendship”, “On Books”). And, the other is the Bacon line (read at least two: “On studies”, “Of Vicissitude of Things”). In the first line, the essay is more subjective and there are proper citations. In the second line, the essay is more objective and there are no explicit citations, or there are few. Both Montaigne and Bacon are masters when it comes to developing ideas. They both work on the obvious and deep, the everyday routine and the surprising. They both appeal to other voices, they both use the past and other books to present their points of view. They both pass judgment: they venture to present their thoughts. It’s important to reread these two authors, apart from being a joy and a reunion with good prose, they’re model-essays, and they can be useful to anyone who wants to learn or perfect their essay-writing.
- Other exquisite essays are the ones written by Alfonso Reyes and Pedro Henríquez Ureña. These are strong essays with depth, and above all, they were written using all of the literary resources and the power of imagination. Whoever has read Reyes’ “Notes on American Intelligence” or Ureña’s “Six Essays Looking for Our Expression” has felt this to be a revelation of powerful writing, the kind of writing that can create worlds. There’s a treasure trove of style in these two essayists, a really personal “stamp” that puts the essay on the same level as the story or the poem. When you read Reyes’ or Ureña’s essays, what you read, apart from being energetic thoughts, is excellent literature.
- The essay shouldn’t be so short that it seems like just a thought, or so long that it seems like a research paper. There’s a middle ground: from 3 to 10 pages (just to mention a length). But, whatever its length, each essay needs to have a thesis (with its pros and its cons), and the necessary summary. Let’s not forget that the essay is a complete piece of writing. The previous points are not selective in regards to other styles or to different ways of writing an essay, and they shouldn’t be read as set rules. They’re only recommendations, general guidelines.